Auston Matthews was just one future NHL star who shined brightly during the 2016 World Junior Championship tournament in Helsinki, Finland.
The 2016 World Junior Championship had an incredible ending, almost scripted for maximum tension.
It required two game-tying third-period goals, and Finland took its first lead of the game with 2:09 left to play. But Russia managed to score with 6.9 seconds left to set up overtime heroics from Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Kasperi Kapanen, sealing victory on home ice for the Finns.
But when we look back at the 2016 event, what we may remember most was when a tournament that is often a showcase for 19-year-old players became a younger man’s game, as 2016 NHL draft eligible players, including a few 17-year-olds, dominated the show.
Of the top seven scorers who weren’t in relegation, six are 2016 draft eligible and four are just 17, including Finnish tournament MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. That makes SI.com’s two All-Tournament Teams different than they would be during most years, highlighting how this World Juniors was a special affair. As always, it provided a glimpse of the future faces of the NHL.
FIRST TEAM ALL-WORLD JUNIORS
Jesse Puljujarvi, Finland (2016 eligible): Puljujarvi’s entire line was incredible, but his individual performance was something special. Averaging over two points per game, his hands and skating ability were showcased in every game. He tied Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros for the second-most points ever by an under-18 skater (17), and that helped make him the youngest player to win MVP in the 15 years that the award has been issued at the World Junior tournament.
Auston Matthews, USA (2016 eligible): The projected top pick in the 2016 NHL draft, Matthews posted a tournament-leading seven goals, one short of Jeremy Roenick’s record for an American set in 1989. The Arizona-raised forward has flashy, break-the-play-open kind of skill as well as the strength to battle in the corners and in front of the net.
Patrik Laine, Finland (2016 eligible): Laine is a rare combination of a big player with high-end skill. The 6' 4", 209-pound winger showed his physical side while while skating on a line with Puljujarvi and tying Matthews with seven goals. He totaled 13 points, tied for eighth most by an under-18 player all-time.
Olli Julevi, Finland (2016 eligible):Julevi may have increased his draft stock more than any other player in the tournament. The smooth-skating blueliner moved his team out of its own zone efficiently and activated the offense well, tying for the tournament lead among defensemen with nine points.
Zach Werenski, USA (Columbus Blue Jackets): Werenski was named the tournament’s Best Defenseman and he earned it. With U.S. coach Ron Wilson frequently shortening the bench, Werenski logged more minutes than anyone not wearing a goalie mask. Aside from a couple high-profile mistakes, particularly on Russia's game-winner in the semifinals, he was solid in both ends and tied Julevi for the points lead among defensemen.
Linus Soderstrom, Sweden (New York Islanders): Finishing with the tournament’s top save percentage (.947) doesn’t always mean a goalie has been the best, but in Soderstrom’s case, it did this time around. He saved Sweden's bacon repeatedly, including a 46-save shutout performance against the U.S. in the group stage that he should have bronzed for his grandchildren to admire.
SECOND TEAM ALL-WORLD JUNIORS
Adrian Kempe, Sweden (Los Angeles Kings): Sweden was projected by many to be the team to beat, but injuries went a long way toward derailing its hopes. It briefly looked like the team may have lost Kempe when he left the opening match against Switzerland with an injury, but he was able to return for the next game. In all, he put up three goals and eight points in seven games showing some impressive strength in his ability to power his way to the front of the net.
Sebastian Aho, Finland (Carolina Hurricanes): The dynamic center of the Finnish line that tore up the tournament, Aho finished second in overall scoring with 14 points (5-9-14). His line wasn’t just racking up points against lesser opponents, it was the line that turned it up for tighter games. In the gold medal game, Finland entered the third period down 1-0. Aho assisted on the goal that made it 1–1 and then scored to make it 2–2 later. He was always in the thick of things when it mattered most.
Alexander Nylander, Sweden (2016 eligible): Another draft-eligible player, Nylander put up nine points in seven games, tying for sixth in scoring. The 17-year-old may have a little to prove on the defensive end, but with his brother William out for all but a single period of the tournament, and brief injuries to Kempe and Joel Eriksson Ek hindering the Swedish attack, his offensive prowess was more than welcome.
Ivan Provorov, Russia (Philadelphia Flyers): Russia plays a unique style, often rolling all four lines and using three power play units. But when things really mattered, Provorov was on the ice. He’s at his best winning 50/50 board battles in the defensive zone and dictating zone exits, but he made his presence felt on the scoresheet as well. He assisted on the tying goal with 14 seconds left against the Czechs in the quarterfinals and on the overtime winner that followed. Then, he dished on the game-tying goal with 6.9 seconds left in the gold medal game. It was impossible to ignore his impact.
Andreas Englund, Sweden (Ottawa Senators): Less of an offensive presence, Englund still played a role similar to Werenski and Provorov for his team. He was leaned on in all situations and put in some serious minutes, especially with injuries thinning out the Swedish blue line, including the loss of Adam Ollas Mattsson in the quarterfinals.
Alex Nedeljkovic, Team USA (Carolina Hurricanes): Nedeljkovic wasn’t called on to steal a game the way Soderstrom was, but he was solid in every game he played. He consistently made good saves and was a huge part of the U.S. having a tournament-best +24 goal differential. That was nearly double Sweden’s +14, the second-best mark at World Juniors. His .943 save percentage is the third best all-time by a starting American goaltender.
Matthew Tkachuk, Team USA (’16 eligible); Vladislav Kamenev, Team Russia (Nashville Predators); Dylan Strome, Team Canada (Arizona Coyotes); Brandon Carlo, Team USA (Boston Bruins); William Lagesson, Team Sweden (Edmonton Oilers); Kaapo Kahkonen, Team Finland (Minnesota Wild)